Following the question of how food entrepreneurs learn might be “Who’s helping them?” This Examiner has been researching food incubators and accelerators, and new ones seem to pop up daily. But, as National Geographic: The Plate just pointed out: “The definitions of food incubators and accelerators are just as under construction as the trend.”
New York and San Francisco are leading in what this Examiner calls services for food entrepreneurs. In the Big Apple, offerings run the gamut from meet-ups to weekend workshops to extended cohorts like Food-X and Accel Foods. By the Bay, you find FoodBytes, Bon Appetech, and now a whole Food Business School. Outside these hubs, there’s Incubation Station, recently rebranded SKU (Austin), The Skillery (Nashville) and Disrupt Agriculture (Omaha).
These are early days for judgment, but a few observations may warrant mentioning:
- Many designs draw directly from the tech sector. This makes sense as investors accustomed to pure tech move over to food tech. Pioneering in the migration was Tim West’s Food Hackathon, refocusing the traditional hackathon (oxymoron) on the food industry.
- Food tech and food are not the same. Food is a world unto itself with its own rules and dynamics. So while designs may carry over, culture does not. Case in point: hackathon is a term most food people still don’t know.
- Like in pure tech, food is a rapidly evolving marketplace offering up new designs daily. Unlike in pure tech, you actually have to move the food. (This is a point a lot of tech entrepreneurs like to skim over.) Food industry supply chains contain the world’s most daunting logistics for one simple reason: food rots.
Food entrepreneurs create new products and services for a wickedly complex system. What they need to learn, grow and succeed is just as emergent as the Tilt-A-Whirl marketplace under their feet.
Maybe they need more than just food investors, consultants, lawyers and mentor-entrepreneurs to advise them. Maybe they need people with food policy and non-profit expertise, folks from other but adjacent sectors like healthcare and energy, chefs, artists and perhaps also some eaters… Maybe food incubators and accelerators are just one category in a necessary portfolio of hubs and resources helping food entrepreneurs to learn.
Rob Edell of Servy was part of Food-X’s first cohort. “The combination of capital, mentorship, and community was invaluable to us. However, not every startup will benefit from an accelerator program, and not every accelerator program is a fit for every startup. For example, a startup that produces food most likely needs commercial kitchen space, expertise in contract manufacturing, and knowledge of food distribution, which many accelerators don’t provide.”
This Examiner hopes that the future of food-entrepreneur services holds more food sensitive learning models, deliberately and diligently diverse mentor networks, flattened learning and teaching structures, and more curated interactions that permit spontaneity and uncertainty of outcome.
Food entrepreneurs will continue to push for real-time relevant user-driven education. Their fates depend on it. Providers who figure out how best to serve them will win.